Category Archives: Nonprofiteers

On the Ice Bucket Challenge and Charity

A few weeks ago marked the second anniversary of the ALS Association’s “Ice Bucket Challenge,” a brilliant fundraising drive that’s success is without precedent and I have a feeling will probably never be repeated. To celebrate, the ALSA announced that they had discovered a gene that could be associated with the disease using the funds generated by the Challenge. Most people applauded, but a few pointed out (justifiably) that it was not the monumental breakthrough that everyone had hoped for. The disease has not been cured, but we do understand it a bit better, now.

Then there was this: “The ice bucket challenge’s scientific success restored my faith in fundraising.” I have been trying to keep my mouth shut about this article for a month now, but I can’t. To say it infuriates me puts it mildly.

While the author (Mary Valle) concludes that the Challenge was a clever and deserved success, she spends a lot of the article griping that “overblown, internet-BS game[s] parading as a fundraiser[s]” can make people “feel like money keeps getting shoveled in to the charity-industrial complex with very little in the way of progress coming out.”

What bothers me is that expecting organizations to deliver miracles because the world suddenly cared for a few moments about a relatively unknown disease is both preposterous and damaging. It ignores the great things that institutions like the ALS Association do every day that we, as a society, take for granted, and that are life-changing to those who need them.

The ALS Association doesn’t just fund research. They have chapters in every state that provide services to people with ALS and their families including support groups, service referral, advocacy, loans to buy equipment, and more. This is not sexy work, but it is absolutely necessary.

Taking this a bit further, nonprofits like ALSA provide services that address problems that fall through the cracks — the ones neither the public or private sectors deal with.

Take Code Savvy, for example. Their work has a pretty simple premise: coding is a necessary skill in today’s workforce and will only continue to grow in importance over the coming years. Schools are not teaching it (kids at some Minneapolis high schools are only allowed to use their computer lab twice a week because there are too many students and too few computers for crying out loud) for want of resources. No for-profit company could implement a mass-education program that would train a huge chunk of the population in this skill cost-effectively, let alone earn a buck in the end.

So, Code Savvy steps in to fix an never-ending problem. Most of what they and other nonprofits do is the day-to-day drudgery of the Necessary.

Nonprofits are perpetually in a quandary. The folks who work at nonprofits are there because they believe there is an unprofitable need that has to be addressed, but at the same time that their organization should not exist in the first place. It’s built into the nonprofit DNA in the form of the universal “Vision Statement” that says what the world should look like when their work is finally complete.

As a friend of mine put it, if you work at a nonprofit, you should always be trying to work yourself out of a job.

I have spent my (admittedly short) working life at nonprofits. It has rarely occurred to me that I could find a job in the for-profit sector that would appeal to me, though I have often considered pursuing work in local government. I do not want to earn a monthly pay check — I want to serve. I strive to live up to the ideal that I am not working for myself and my family alone, but for the betterment of others. A lot of that kind of work is both endless and thankless, but essential. Nonprofits will do it until we have policy solutions and government departments dedicated to solving the problem.

If you think a six million dollar, one-time infusion of cash into a disease that has been known about for decades will result in a cure you are delusional. If you decided to become a sustaining donor, on the other hand, that is commendable, because you understand that there are some things that do not go away easily or quickly. That is where I agree with folks who say you cannot throw money at a problem. You can, however, convince society that an issue is worthy of collective action and then to strategically invest time and resources into its solution.

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Filed under Nonprofiteers, Progressivism, Rant, Things That Happen, Uncategorized

End of Year Appeal

Dear Fiend,

Let’s get to the point, shall we? None of us have the time — especially if we get our way.

They say Evil doesn’t pay and they’re right. That’s why, if you make an end-of-year, tax deductible gift today, your donation will be tredecuple-matched and your name will be added to the Wall of Infamy in Perpetuity!

The year is coming to an end. And so is everything else, thanks to your resolve. We should take a moment to reflect on our accomplishments and Greatest Ambitions.

Despite the disappointing outcome of the 2012 Promise campaign, Antagonist United and its loyal members have worked hard to make these past three years a spectacular success.

Through creativity and malice, we’ve finally accomplished both the biological and supernatural zombie. Nano bots capable of bringing on the Grey Goo have gotten to work in Missouri. Our Bad Weathermen are producing tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons all across the world. General mania and disorder are rampant with no serious opposition from masked vigilantes. And (completely unrelated) a meteor is hurtling toward the planet, which looks like a promising extinction event.

Fiends, we are closing in on the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the Denouement.

That’s right. Antagonist United is proud to announce our dedication to ensuring that 2016 will be The End.

By this time next year, there will be no Time. There will be no Something. Just Nothing.

It’s not clear what that will look like or whether or not it will violate the laws of physics, but it will Be.

But only with your compulsory support.

At Antagonist United, we aren’t interested in generosity, just the End of all ends. Just like you. This world is a mess and we need to rule it. If you make a tax-deductible end of year gift today we’ll ensure that 2016 will be the last. This time, we promise.

One way or another.

That’s why, for a limited time only, if you donate your entire net worth to Antagonist United, you can have your loved ones back! By now, you must have noticed their absence. Let me assure you that they are safe (for now) and moderately comfortable and will remain so until the stroke of midnight January 1st, 2016. After that, well, it all depends on your loyalty to our cause.

Make your Last donation today. To a future none of us will ever know, just like everyone else.

Yours with Conviction,

SF

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Trump Plan for Helping Working Americans: $50 per vote

Stating that he has already instituted his policies to help lower and middle class Americans and combat income inequality, Donald Trump paid average citizens to cheer him on as he announced his bid for the presidency.

“For every red-blooded, white American born in these United States, I promise to give you $50 for your support in the 2016 election,” Trump said conspiratorially, adding loudly, “And I will make this nation great again!”

Critics point out that Trump could not pay $50 to every registered voter, but his spokesman said that he does not expect every voter to support him. “We just need enough desperate people for him to be president,” said a member of the campaign team. “Besides, if every registered voter threw in for him, the difference would be negligible. Can you imagine what you would do with $42?”

Walmart has come out in support of Trump’s campaign. “Many of our products are more attainable with Trump’s stimulus plan,” they said in a press release.

Trump closed his announcement speech by saying, “We need to re-brand American. And if you want to know my plan for defeating ISIS, I’ll let you in for a limited-time offer of $25.”

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Filed under Anxieties, Nonprofiteers, Progressivism, Rant, Satire, Story, Tribute, Uncategorized

Thoughts on Gratitude

When I was working at a housing rehab nonprofit in New Orleans one of our celebrity donors was working on-site working with my friend Josh. She asked Josh how much he and the rest of us were paid and he explained that we have a living stipend of about $12,000 for ten months.

She said,  “You get $12,000 a month?”

“No,” he said, “$12,000 total for ten months.”

When he had his back turned and was holding up a piece of drywall, he felt her reach into his pocket and leave something there. Josh’s first thought was that her boyfriend, who was present and a lot bigger and stronger than him, was going to beat the shit out of him. Then Josh realized she had put a hundred dollar bill in his pocket.

Josh told this story to me and our supervisor later. Our supervisor just nodded and said, “And you know what you do in a situation like that, right?” We both shook our heads. He said, “You say ‘thank you’ and mean it, and you accept their generosity.”

I hate accepting help. If someone offers their time or money or any other resource to me, I usually decline as politely as possible. God forbid I’d ever ask for it in the first place. At least, that was my way for most of my life, but after that conversation and my term of service in New Orleans, my attitude started to change.

When I moved to the Twin Cities, I finally got a job where I was paid more than a living wage (after about six months of job-searching). It was then that I was finally able to donate my time and money to my friends’ arts projects and causes in which I believe. The first, of course, was NPR.

But, being able to support these organizations is a privilege. I earn more than I need to live and I’m happy to give what I can. With that in mind, that’s ironic because I was irked by how vehemently most people try to refuse help.

I’m a fundraiser, which is a skill set that few people have and even fewer enjoy doing. Since many of my friends and acquaintances are artists, I’ve offered on several occasions to help out by finding grants, patrons, and audiences, but usually people would decline or never follow up.

“Philanthropy is vanity,” so the saying goes. To be upset that people didn’t want my help was childish. But there is something about how refusing help categorically does bother me, but for a different reason than vanity.

In American society, we are raised to believe that hard work leads to success is a natural law just like gravity is the reason objects fall toward the earth. You get out exactly as much as you put in. A person’s success in life is how much wealth they’ve accumulated.

The insidious flip-side of that attitude is that failure is entirely your fault. To accept help is to be weak and shameful, because you shouldn’t need it in the first place. After all, we’re pioneers. If you can’t survive on your own grit, you don’t deserve to. It’s individualism taken to the brutal extreme.

But then, isn’t there something a little insulting about accepting someone else’s help? Who wants to be in a position where they have to accept gratuity from someone better off, let alone admit it? It’s humiliating to say that you can’t make it without assistance.

Maybe not. None of us are self-made and no one lives in a vacuum. As babies and seniors, we’re more or less entirely dependent on other people. We rely on others for our education, resources, and consumers of our work. So why is Giving different?

I don’t believe in altruism. You’re always getting something whenever you give, whether its in an actual monetary transaction or making a donation to a food shelf for the good feeling it gives you. That doesn’t mean that doing something that mostly benefits someone else is invalid because there might be a bit of selfish intent. We all depend on one another. What’s important is realizing that generosity, reciprocity, and empathy are essential.

To give is Good. And so is to receive gratefully.

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Book Review: This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein

I admittedly have a crush on Naomi Klein.

Well, This Changes Everything is excellent. That’s the gist of it. And I think everyone should read it.

I don’t feel like explaining the book or Klein’s arguments, because you should read and interpret them yourself. But, to sum up, she says that the societal changes we must undergo to address and mitigate climate change will create a more just and equitable society. Klein isn’t so much concerned with climate change itself as with its relationship to modern progressivism. I find it refreshing, since I have always been, and increasingly am, more skeptical of the philosophy that unfettered free market capitalism is Good and anything in the public sector is Bad.

My admiration for the book isn’t diminished by the one flaw I find with it, and the one that I’ve been struggling with professionally for a while: what is this zero-carbon world supposed to look like?

A friend of mine is a PhD student specializing in environmental communications. When I asked him if he knew of any books or resources that talked about what exactly we’re are trying to achieve, he said, “That’s a problem with the field: lots of critique with no vision of how to improve it.”

Before I started working for an conservation nonprofit, I was aware but didn’t particularly care about environmental issues. My roommate, Derek (the Viking), a botanist, and I had a conversation about Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and how I didn’t like it because the book’s prescription sounds genocidal.

“Do you know the term ‘Carrying capacity?'” Derek asked. “It’s the maximum population size a given environment can sustain and the human population is way beyond it.”

I argued that Thomas Malthus predicted that the population couldn’t move past where it was in the 19th century, but never anticipated the tractor. Derek looked bewildered by this and now I understand why. Because we have thousands of years of innovation-saving-society scenarios to look at, it’s hard to imagine that we won’t invent our way out of the problem. But as soon as there is one catastrophic event that we can’t use brute intelligence to get out of, that’s it. That we, as a species, could be living on borrowed time and debt sounds absurd. But if you really think about it, assuming that some genius is going to save us all is pretty repellant, too (see, The Watchmen). In other words, it’s hubris, or, worse, a stupid acquiescence.

But the Malthusian thing still bothers me. If the situation is going to get as bad as the research indicates, how do we save seven billion people, let alone provide a just standard of living for them? Klein talks about it, but doesn’t offer any concrete advice, but mostly because the answer is: it’s complicated. Or, maybe, she does say what we need to do and it’s “that depends…”

The greatest obstacle to overcoming climate change is not technical, but conceptual. Just like the eponymous Ishmael explains, we need to see ourselves as part of the world, not masters of it. The world isn’t a resource, but a source. Everything that we take, we take from ourselves or future generations. Likewise for giving.

The reason this all interests me is that I work for an environmental nonprofit and am in communications. The environmental movement is in a bit of a predicament right now because we just fended off a concentrated attack from the denialist camp that eroded confidence in the science and we’re only starting to climb our way out of the post-2006 slump in public opinion. While most people are paying attention to the facts and are aware that we are in a serious situation, it’s still a low priority.

It’s just not fair.

When Fox News gets to say, every day, that the world is ending, people act. When environmentalists say the apocalypse is taking place right now, people shrug it off and say, “That’s just the price we pay.”

A lot has been written about this phenomenon, but I really do think that the problem is in the messaging. Progressives abhor hyperbole and are distrustful of Doom and Gloom. It doesn’t help that the language of science doesn’t really work in American political dialogue, because, in science, the data can always be re-interpreted and new theories could, and probably will, replace the old. Whenever something is asserted scientifically, it’s in the form, “The data indicates…” not “the data proves…”

The protagonist of Thank You for Smoking makes a similar point, that political power and public opinion follow the people who offer the least doubt and most confidence. Demagogues don’t have to prove that they’re right, just that we might be wrong. By offering the data with caveats, we’re winning the argument for our opponents.

The Left’s greatest weakness is one of it’s defining strengths: skepticism.  Progressivism is an agnostic political theory that can’t stand absolutes. What I’ve learned by reading Klein’s Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything, is that the progressivist’s position is often portrayed by the reactionary as “absolute” when it is, in fact, not. It’s not communist, socialist, totalitarian, Nazi, or whatever else, to say our society should regulate the market and ensure a reasonable standard of living for even our poorest.

That’s what I really admire about Klein, that she takes a hard-line in a philosophy that prides itself on not being hard-line. Freedom and independence is good. But so is compassion, reciprocity, generosity, and duty toward the society that enabled us to thrive.

So, the book means a lot to me. I recommend it. Also, Greed Is Not Good.

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Innovation, like Greed, Is Not Good

When you work with words all day, you start to develop strong opinions and Feelings about them. For instance, I love the words “intransigent,” “autumnal,” “evanesce,” “obtain,” and “logic.”

Likewise, there are words I loathe, and most of them are the kind you run into all the time if your a grant writer, like me, in RFPs, advertisements, and “About” pages. Words like “utilize”, “synergy,” “actionable,” “scalable,” “impactful,” “resourceful” (actually, pretty much any time you turn a pithy noun into a active-sounding adjective), and the list goes on.

For one thing, most of these words are substitutes for perfectly good and more simple words, like writing “utilize” instead of “use.” And those that don’t indicate that the writer is frantically shuffling through a thesaurus for a term that sounds more sexy, these words are typically meaningless. What does “actionable” Mean? Okay, yes, it’s obvious what it’s implying, but that’s the problem: it’s implying, not explaining. These words are deliberately vague. They allow the writer the dodge the messy business of actually giving you a detailed account of what’s going on.

The word I hate most, and I think is used far too often, is “innovate” (or any variation thereof… though that’s just ahead of “unique” in the list of words I think no one uses correctly).

This word is used so often by businesses, nonprofits, foundations, and everyone else that it is meaningless. What’s worse is that the concept itself (“new,” “different,” “pioneering,” etc.) has developed a devoted following and cult of personality.

I have noticed in the past few years that more and more philanthropists, businesses, and activists have made “innovation” their central goal. In other words, people have taken up a Gordon Gekko-esque mantra of “Innovation is Good.”

What bothers me about this is that, particularly in the area of philanthropy, more grant programs and prizes seem to be exclusively focused on “innovation.” Certainly, trying something new is a good idea. But in the growing enthusiasm for originality and uniqueness, it seems like people are sacrificing the ends for the means.

Innovation is neither good nor bad. It’s just different. Because of our insistence that everything be innovative, perfectly good and productive projects and organizations are overlooked in the pursuit of the New.

Take Catholic Charities, for example. Sure, they change their programming every so often and check to make sure what they’re doing is working, but generally they are pretty good at delivering social services to people in need because they have been doing it since forever. Or Good Will. Or Habitat for Humanity. All of these organizations have been operating for decades and are very good at what they do,  but there is a growing pressure from foundations and corporate giving programs that being effective isn’t enough. You have to be innovative. You have to be Different and Cutting Edge.

Is Innovation Good? If it leads to better results, sure. On its own, it’s just a buzzword.

This buzzword, however, is becoming a problem. When the obsession with Innovation overshadows the actual work that needs to be done to help people and solve systemic problems, we have left the realm of reality and entered a weird space of entrepreneurial ideology where the definition of Good is being Different-from-the-other-Guy.

Nonprofit service is about addressing a need and creating benefits for society. Anything that advances those causes is good, but praising the means over the ends is like building a house to make a better hammer.

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Nonprofiteers #4 – (Finally) The Talk

It’s been a while. And things had reached a new normal… until last night.

I got home late from the office (I’m renting a space at Co-Co, which is quite nice) and no sooner had a closed my door than a woman dressed like some demon from Faust steps out of the kitchen and hits me in the face. The next bit is a little hazy. I know she went on some sort of rant for a long time and a lot of it had to do with Mason.

Almost on cue (I take that back – it was on cue), Mason stepped out of his room. Not blonde, lanky Mason. Wolfman-Mason.

In the ensuing battle that took place in and around our mudroom, the only casualty was my shoes that got trampled and clawed up. Mason prevailed (of course) and demon-woman ran out. There was an awkward moment of silence between Mason and I. Then he started to say, “You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here…”

“I know it’s you, Mason.”

“Oh. In that case, just a second.”

He went back into his room and emerged a few minutes later in human form.

“Drink?”

“Drink.”

Sitting with whiskeys at the table, Mason apologized. “Sorry. I try to not bring work home with me, but you know…”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I got a separate computer to do work on, but I bring it with me everywhere, so it sort of defeats the purpose. I know how it is.”

That was meant to be sarcastic, but Mason just nodded. He looked down at his drink and muttered, “It goes without saying that you can’t tell anyone about this.”

“You just said it.”

“What?” He looked up.

“You just said, ‘It goes without saying’ but then you… oh, never-the-fuck-mind,” I said.

We both toasted to nothing. Mason said, “How long have you known?’

“Oh, since the week I met you.”

“Shit…”

“It’s a good disguise, really,” I said, seeing how depressed he looked. “I’m just very perceptive. I have to be. Freelancer, you know.”

“You’re just being kind. I wonder who else knows.”

Probably everyone, I thought. Instead, I cleared my throat and said, “So, why super heroism?”

“Why nonprofit communications?” he replied.

“Pays the bills and lets me feel good about myself. But you’ve gotta admit that being a masked vigilante begs more questions.”

“I don’t see it that way.” He sipped his drink. For a moment, he seemed to consider, then said, “When I was fifteen, I was bitten by a werewolf. I knew then that for the rest of my life, people would think I was a monster. So I decided to become a hero.”

“That’s as good of a reason as I’ve ever heard,” I said.

We talked for a while longer about the weather and how this winter has been unrelenting. It made commuting and patrolling horrible. There was a girl in his life now, and she’s coming over for dinner next week. We talked about hobbies we could take up, but didn’t have the time for. Then we got a refill and played Go. It was the longest conversation we’d had in months and I realized that I’d missed talking with him.

It occurs to me that I’m lucky by comparison. I never had to choose between good and evil, and if you have a gift (or curse) like Mason’s and all the other thousands of vigilantes and villains out there, I guess that’s a choice you have to make.

Sometimes I wonder how much choice I do have, though, what with America’s economic mobility disappearing. And I’m not exactly an impulsive person. By disposition, I am where I always expected to be: struggling to get by, just like everyone else.

How about this weather? It’s fucking cold.

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Art in Gratitude

In New Orleans I worked for a housing rehabilitation nonprofit where people from all around the country volunteered regularly. Most of them were church or school groups, but occasionally we’d have high end corporate types and celebrities. One of our regulars was a wealthy, charming, attractive actress and everyone was glad to have her on site for one reason or another.

One day, she was working with a friend, J, and asked him how much he was paid. He said that we were technically volunteers, too, and we got a living stipend of $12k annually. A few minutes later, when his back was turned, J felt the actress reach into his front pocket and then walk away. He looked and found that she’d given him a hundred dollar bill.

J told this to our supervisor, M, and I one day during a 24-hour build. M nodded and asked, “And you know what you do when something like that happens, right?” We both shrugged. M said, “You say ‘Thank you,’ and you mean it, and you accept their generosity.”

Giving and taking were and still are difficult concepts for me. I’ve volunteered, and I’ve gone out of my way for others, but I think I’m only just starting to grasp how complex these desires are in the adult world.

For the first time in my life, I have a salaried position and excess cash. I can afford the things I want and have done a lot of purchasing lately. But I’ve also started to donate regularly, both in terms of time and money. I’ve done my best to support my friends in their recent ventures (check out Story Club Minneapolis and OUTspoken), but I’ve also started contributing to the things I like and believe in.

For instance, Pseudopod. If you’re a fan of horror, you should be listening to this podcast, because it’s all that stands between us and the unspeakable horrors we all know exist. And, if you start listening, start donating. Because they and their sister podcasts, Podcastle for fantasy, and Escape Pod for sci fi, are hurting. Moreover, these three podcasts are some of the best venues in speculative fiction today. If you want to support the literary arts, this is as good a cause as any.

I wouldn’t have been able to make that hard ask a couple years ago. Whenever I heard appeals for money from NPR or even Pseudopod before about 2012, I always thought they were talking to someone else, that some rich person would be able to give to the cause and I could ignore the plea. Now that I work in development (a sexy term for fundraising), I suppose I’ve become more callous to hitting people up for money, but my perspective has changed significantly, too.

I work, I play video games, I write, I do a lot of seemingly meaningless things during my day and I’m beginning to understand this desire to be generous, which is more or less what I’ve told people who are trying to raise money for their projects. Somewhere, there are a lot of people who care deeply about the same things you do and want to do something about it.

True, there’s a certain pettiness to this, if you look at it like a cynic (which I am). Philanthropy is vanity, but there’s more to it than that. Most people don’t know that they can make a difference because it isn’t obvious. There’s seven billion of us sharing this planet and in a media-saturated culture we’re constantly reminded of what we don’t have that other people do, like money, talent, prosperity, good fortune, etc. It’s easy to think that Someone Else Can Do It, not because people are lazy, but because people don’t realize that You means Me.

Furthermore, most people never think to Ask. My own partner hates asking me for favors and I feel the same way, because we were brought up to believe that you have to earn everything you get. From that perspective, it’s humiliating to ask for or accept help. Pride is a powerful compulsion. But no one gets anywhere without someone else – it’s part of the reason why marriage and family are cultural universals.

So, here’s a lame way to wrap up this post: be generous and grateful. It’s good for you.

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Nonprofiteers #3 – Pessimist Bias

Whenever I tell people where I live, everyone always asks if I’ve been to the Turf Club. Finally, I went, and it was magnificent.

Most nights, there’s a band or three playing and so they usually have a cover, but last Friday I was in no mood to let such things get in my way. Five dollars and a five block walk seemed worth it. I’d just gotten gotten paid from a freelance gig and felt compelled to celebrate.

Mason, miraculously, was free that night. Stranger still, he was watching TV and it wasn’t the news. He was on season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and was eating a pint of vanilla ice cream. When he saw me he explained, “Someone told me it was therapeutic.”

“Is it working?” I asked.

“Yes, actually.”

“Want to go to a concert tonight?”

“Who’s playing?”

“No idea.”

“Sure.”

After we ordered our drinks and sat down at a rickety table as far from the stage as possible, the band got on the mic. They were called the Bad Bad Hats and they weren’t bad. Nor, as Mason pointed out, did they have hats.

“So?” I asked. “The Goo Goo Dolls and Barenaked Ladies don’t live up to their names.”

“But their name just screams, ‘Hipster Band Struggling to Find a More Unique, Convoluted Name.'”

“Hey, that wouldn’t be a bad band name.”

Mason sneered at me. “I’m just saying, pick a name that suits you.”

“Oh, I’m certain that there’s a great inside joke behind the Bad Bad Hats.”

I was scribbling in my notebook while we talked. Eventually, inevitably, Mason pointed and asked what I was doing.

“Got a new gig,” I said. “A nonprofit in Edina that prepares food for people surviving cancer. Supposed to give them ideas for materials for their upcoming campaign. I’m having some trouble.”

“Why?”

“They’re taking a pessimistic angle.”

He cocked an eyebrow and sipped his beer. “What do you mean?”

“It’s a tactic,” I explained. “Convince people that if they don’t give that the world will end. So, the message ends up like, ‘Donate, or a lot of people are going to starve and you’ll be a bad person,’ versus, ‘Donate a hundred dollars, and you’ll feed ten people for a week.'”

“I’m not following.”

“You play to the optimism bias. The gist of it is that people like to feel good about their actions, and you get a better response if you tell them their actions improve somebody else’s life instead of helping avert disaster. In one, you’re telling someone that their relatively easy action makes the world a better place. In the other, you’re telling them the same action prevents the world from getting worse – and you’re guilty by default if you don’t.”

Mason tapped his finger against the table. He wasn’t getting it.

I sighed. “Most people don’t like being superheroes.”

“Oh,” he said and looked up at the stage, clearly more confused than before. Finally, he nodded, as if he’d accepted the mystery, and said, “People are weird.”

“They are, indeed. Some are even weird enough to want to be heroes.”

Mason looked at me sharply and awkwardly covered the fumble. “Yeah, weird, like I said. Want another drink?”

“Sure!” I said. He wandered off to the bar. I’m going to have to remember that trick: if you want a vigilante to do something, the optimism bias is suspended.

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(Id)entity – Nonprofiteers #2

The night before last, around midnight, I walked into the kitchen and found Mason cooking a pound of bacon on a cast iron skillet. “Oh, hey,” he said, waving a spatula. There were rings under his eyes and his stubble had somehow become an impressive beard over the course of 48 hours.

He looked at me for a moment, then down at the stove, then back at me. “Is the sizzling keeping you up?”

“No,” I said and sat down at our dirty, kitchen table. It was actually a card table that I think I found in my parents’ basement once upon a time. Maybe a garage sale. Either way, someone was glad to give it to me.

“How’s the job search going?” he asked, dishing out the bacon onto a plate and using a paper towel to soak up excess grease.

I looked at the clock again and decided sleep was a lost cause. All week I’ve been having the same dream. It starts with the world splitting in half and then everyone realizes that they can’t talk anymore, going mute. Paper shortages follow. Eventually, no one can read anymore. I usually wake up in a cold sweat realizing that the one skill I’d cultivated over my lifetime has been rendered useless.

Mason sat down across from me. “Bacon?” he asked, gesturing at the pile.

“No,” I said, “I don’t eat pork.”

“Are you Jewish?”

“No, just morally opposed. Pigs are too smart.

“Oh,” he said, looking down at his food guiltily.

“You can eat. It’s cool. My morals aren’t yours.”

He shook his head, “Moral relativism is a slippery path, my friend.” But he started eating anyway, saying between bites, “So, you didn’t answer my question.”

“I’m up to seventy applications. Statistically speaking,  I should get an offer any day now.”

“I see. Are they all in the nonprofit sector?”

“Yup.”

“Have you considered applying in the for-profit arena? Target and United Health are big employers here.”

“Nah. I’ve heard both of those chew tweens into hamburger. And I’m only interested in working for a nonprofit.”

“Why?”

“The nonprofit sector is growing and needs young talent to take over service delivery as the baby boomers retire. I want my work and efforts to go toward a cause that improves people’s lives. Most of my friends are involved with nonprofts. And so on.”

“Do you have a specific area of interest? Like criminal justice or voluntarism?”

Since it was midnight and he brought it up, I considered just flat out asking him if his nightly excursions and obsession with justice were meaningful. But he asked a good question.

“Well, no, I’m applying across the board.”

“So, you could just as easily work for a free clinic as a animal shelter?”

“I guess so, yes. As long as I was doing communications.”

“So, why not work for Target? They do a lot of volunteerism and the Daytons make huge contributions to the arts and civic projects.”

“Good point,” I said. And it was. The machinery of my brain was working a little slow and eventually I slouched over the table, feeling it nearly give beneath the insubstantial weight of my exhaustion. “I guess I just need a mission.”

“I knew we’d get along.” Mason smiled. He cleaned his plate and leaned back in his chair. “Pigs are really smart?”

“Oh yeah. My aunt and cousins have a farm. They calls them ‘devious,’ actually. That’s good enough for me.”

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